DHA boosts memory in healthy aging adults

1 February 2010

Daily supplementation with the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can improve both memory function and heart health in healthy older adults according to the results of the Memory Improvement with DHA Study (MIDAS), presented on July 12th at the 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Vienna.

The MIDAS Trial

This study, based in the United States was one of the largest of its kind to date. In addition, it was scientifically well designed to ensure unbiased results by including a number of different research centres, randomly assigning patients to take capsules either with or without DHA and ensuring that neither they nor their doctors knew which treatment was being taken.

The trial included 485 healthy older people of approximately 70 years of age who reported they had mild memory loss (age related cognitive decline). They were randomly assigned to take either 900 mg of DHA per day or an identical looking capsule without DHA (placebo or dummy pill) for 6 months. Before and after treatment, brain function was tested for:

  1. Working memory - the capacity to store and manipulate information for brief periods of time (for example, calling directory assistance on your mobile to obtain a telephone number, remembering that number long enough to hang up and then enter the number on your key pad)
  2. Memory retention – how long something can be remembered
  3. Attention – ability to stay focused on a task
  4. Executive function - the brain process that helps manage life tasks (for example, organizing a trip, researching a subject, or writing an email).

They were also tested for visual acuity (the ability to see clearly) and the quantity of DHA in their blood was measured.

The Results

By the end of the study those taking DHA made significantly fewer errors on the tests that assessed memory, attention and executive function compared to at the start of the study. In addition, their blood levels of DHA doubled, but more importantly their memory, attention and executive function improved along with the increases in blood DHA. Interestingly, this group also had a significant drop in heart rate, which is a good thing since it means that the heart does not have to work as hard. There were no similar changes in brain function, blood DHA or heart health in the placebo group.

This large scale clinical trial confirmed that 6 months of DHA supplementation improves memory function and decreases heart rate in healthy older adults with age related cognitive decline. The improvement was the equivalent of a 3 year drop in age! So if you want to stay younger, make sure you are taking DHA!

A DHA Dose

Efalex Active 50+, the first fish oil supplement specifically designed for the over 50s, contains a unique combination of ingredients known for their beneficial role in maintaining healthy brain function and performance, including Fish oils, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Ginkgo biloba, Vitamin B12 and folic acid. Available from Boots, Holland & Barrett, independent pharmacies and health food stores and online from www.efamol.com, Efalex Active 50+ is priced from £9.49 for 30 capsules.


K. Yurko-Mauro, D. McCarthy, E. Bailey-Hall, E.B. Nelson, A. Backwell. Results of the MIDAS Trail: Effects of docosahexaenoic acid on physiological and safety parameters in age-related cognitive decline. Oral Presentation 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, July 12, 2009, Vienna, Austria.

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